It is difficult to know where to begin when approaching an artist as wonderful as Ella Fitzgerald, especially when covering a revered recording like Sings the Irving Berlin Song Book
from the late '50s. This set includes two CDs with 32 songs chosen from Berlin
's collection of nearly 800 songs. These selections are perfectly suited for Fitzgerald's voice and her romantic sensibility; they are happy, occasionally sad, and full of swinging rhythm. A few of these songs -- "Cheek to Cheek," "Puttin' on the Ritz," and "Blue Skies" -- will be most familiar; others, "Top Hat, White Tie, and Tails," "Russian Lullaby," and "All By Myself" are as memorable but perhaps less known. Choices like "Isn't This a Lovely Day?" feature everything a listener would want in a song: intelligent lyrics, memorable melodies, and a strong emotional center. To say that Fitzgerald is in good voice for these recordings would be an understatement; her presentation here is simply regal. It should be pointed out that these two- and three-minute tunes are tightly arranged, and don't allow the freedom of extended scat singing as on Ella in Berlin
. The arrangements are also lovely, featuring the tasteful support of Paul Weston & His Orchestra
, which never overpowers Fitzgerald. Such songs as "Cheek to Cheek" and "How Deep Is the Ocean?" -- the standards that once dominated singers' repertoires -- seem absent from today's musical scene. That may be unfortunate, but they continue to live healthy lives in recordings like this one. For fans who have enjoyed other songbook recordings, this reissue is a must-have; for those unfamiliar with Fitzgerald's songbook work, this is an excellent place to start.